9 February 2009 – On the occasion of the second international round-table on the integration of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians in Kosovo, organised by the Project on Ethnic Relations (PER), in co-operation with the OSCE/ODHIR CPRSI, Romano Them called on the governments of the host countries to refrain from forced repatriations of Roma to Kosovo. “In ten years, the international community has done hardly anything to protect the rights of Roma in Kosovo,” the organisation said. “Those who have remained there live under miserable conditions and are afraid to leave their immediate surrounding. Forcibly returning Roma to Kosovo will just create further misery and human suffering.”

The organisation, which recently visited Kosovo in the context of a health assessment conducted by the WHO in order to assess the condition of the inhabitants of the IDP camps in Kosovoska Mitrovica, received several reports about cases of violence and intimidation against Roma which seem to go unreported. Cases included harassment, destruction of property and rape. The organisation had the occasion to visit several IDP families in Leposavić who have been accommodated in a former army hangar where they are exposed to unhealthy living conditions resulting in chronic diseases and stress.

“From our visit it has become clear, that there are no conditions for the return of Roma. Many people told us that they see their exit only in a resettlement to a third country. The lack of adequate conditions was confirmed to us by several representatives of the international community who asked us to lobby against forced returns,” Romano Them said. The organisation also pointed out at its criticism of the Kosovo constitution and the laws which were adopted in its aftermath which confine Roma to the status of third class citizens.

“Return to the country of origin is a right,” the organisation said. “It is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and included in the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).” Romano Them therefore called on the international community to put pressure on the local authorities to create the conditions for the safe and sustainable return of Roma. But the organisation also reminded, that there is no obligation for the refugees to return to their place of origin, especially if a person fears to become victim of acts of reprisal.

The organisation criticised the organisers of the roundtable for organising the meeting in Pristina and choosing a government building as a place of venue. “Doing so, they have contradicted their statement of alleged neutrality on the issue of returns,” the organisation said. “Indeed, now the focus shifts towards the local conditions and the implementation of the strategy for the integration of Roma, whereas their integration in the host countries is neglected.”

Two weeks before the conference, Romano Them addressed a letter to the director of the Project on Ethnic Relations, Ms. Livia Plaks, in which it underlined its concerns regarding the choice of the location, making a participation of the Diaspora impossible. Romano Them feels that the approach of the Project on Ethnic Relations is clearly biased, belying its stated intention to include the primary concerned in the discussion about their future.

The organisation reiterated its call to the OSCE to support the creation of a forum bringing together the representatives of the refugee community, including the IDPs in Kosovo and in Serbia, in order to enable them to articulate their views in a more neutral framework and to provide them with the means to address pending issues such as property returns and compensation for the prejudice suffered. 

In view of the forthcoming negotiations regarding the signature of bilateral readmission agreements, Romano Them called on the governments of the host countries to stick to the UNHCR position on international protection needs of individuals from Kosovo. It called on the international organisations, in particular, EULEX and the OSCE, to carefully monitor the situation on the ground and investigate and report any cases of alleged human rights violations against Roma.

Related links:

Statement of the Kosovo Roma Diaspora on the occasion of the „International Roundtable on Roma, Ashakli and Egyptians of Kosovo: Challenges and Prospects of Sustainable Integration”, 22 October 2008

 

Project on Ethnic Relations (PER): RAE of Kosovo: Challenges and Prospects of Sustainable Integration, January 2009